It was stimulating to speak at Sutton Trust’s launch of its Better Apprenticeships Campaign in the summer because its thrust is closely aligned to the step-changes we want to see in apprenticeships via our proposed National Education Service.
As Shadow Skills Minister I have worked closely in recent years with the Sutton Trust – and firmly believe that apprenticeships can benefit from the Trust’s same laser-like focus on social mobility that its work on HE has produced. After Labour in Government revitalised apprenticeships in the early 2000’s, they have become a pathway to a skilled workforce. But, access from under-represented groups remains stagnant.
Particular challenges lie around pay and benefits. So Government’s decision to exclude apprenticeships from “approved education or training” means apprentices miss out on child benefit and other financial support often discouraging those from disadvantaged backgrounds. When you add in what apprentices can face in travel and time costs, especially in rural and non-urban areas, that is where a systemic leg-up is required.
I’m convinced that (as in the world of HE) earlier intervention can be crucial in boosting aspiration and interest in the apprentice route for disadvantaged young people. They often lack the social capital and know-how to do so. The work Sutton Trust and others can do will strengthen opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Education Select Committee’s recent report on apprenticeships highlighted Government’s consistent failure to break through on this. That is why Labour when the Institute for Apprenticeships was set up challenged Ministers to set the IfA targets to increase apprenticeships for people with disabilities, care leavers and veterans as well as women and BAME and LGBT groups done. Sadly that’s not happening.
Labour’s National Education Service charter states that ‘it will be inclusive and equitable. All individuals will be given appropriate support to access and succeed in education, regardless of age, gender, disability, race, religion, class, sexual orientation or any other social or personal characteristics.’ This is what we must establish for our apprenticeships.
If apprenticeships are to have strong outcomes for local economies, far more young people need to get to their starting block to begin with. This means supporting our SME’s and starts at Level 2, but also ensuring a properly funded, promoted traineeships programme to prevent them losing out to more privileged applicants in the apprenticeship pathway.
With the significant challenges approaching our workforce with Brexit and automation, and a spike expected in skills gaps as a result – it’s critical we offer proper incentives to colleges, providers, small employers to deliver what’s needed.
Just talking about the need for parity of esteem between academic and technical education is not enough. We need strategies and practical outcomes flowing from that. We should be giving young people aged 10 to 14 the encounters that will spur them and their families to aim high in both areas. Access to apprenticeships, with their mix of on the job training and practical experience, is a central element in that.
Gordon Marsden MP is Shadow Skills Minister.
See all of the Sutton Trust #BetterApprenticeships campaign guest blogs.